Information structure and the relative efficacy of tables and graphs

Joachim Meyer, Marcia Kuskin Shamo, Daniel Gopher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations

Abstract

Users and system designers often prefer to display information with graphs rather than with tables. However, empirical studies that compared task performance with the two display types frequently revealed either an advantage of tables over graphs or no differences between the displays. This apparent contradiction may result from previous studies in which the importance of the structure that usually exists in displayed information is overlooked. We predict that graphic displays will have an advantage over tables when the displayed information has structure and when this structure is relevant for the task. These conditions generally exist in the actual use of information displays, but have seldom been assessed in experiments. In the present study participants in an experiment performed an information extraction task and a prediction task with unstructured or structured data and with different levels of prior information about the structure. The results showed that the information structure and prior knowledge about the existence of structure affected the advantage of graphic displays over tables when task performance depended on the use of structure. Existing approaches to the study of displays were analyzed in view of these findings. Actual or potential applications of this research include the development of better displays for process control and decision support and better operator training programs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)570-587
Number of pages18
JournalHuman Factors
Volume41
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jan 1999

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